Girls with guns is a sub-genre of action films and animation, often Asian films and anime, that portray a strong female protagonist who makes use of firearms to defend against or attack a group of antagonists. The genre may typically involves gunplay, stunts and martial arts action. The genre started in the late 1950s and early 1960s in Asia. Suzuki Seijun’s 1958 film ‘Underworld Beauty’ is an early example from Japan.
In the 1966, Hong Kong actress Cheng Pei-pei starred in the Shaw Brothers Studio film ‘Come Drink with Me,’ an early Chinese film of the genre. Rival Hong Kong studio, Golden Harvest Studios, had their own female fighter, Angela Mao Ying, who also helped popularize the trend in Asia.
In the early 1980s, two new actresses began to ascend in the Hong Kong action world: Michelle Yeoh and martial artist Cynthia Rothrock. They starred in the Corey Yuen directed film ‘Yes Madam,’ (aka ‘In the Line of Duty 2’). Seijun has been a champion of the genre, which, in Japan, has skewed heavily toward campy films. However, the genre has also spread across Asia to countries such as Thailand, which has generated a slew of female-led action films, most notably starring Yanin ‘Jeeja’ Vismitananda. South Korea has adopted the genre as well, but to a much lesser extent.
The West embraced the genre as early as the 1970s with exploitation features such as ‘Foxy Brown.’ The genre continued to thrive in the 1980s with modest budgeted films like ‘Ms. 45’ (aka ‘Angel of Vengeance’). The 2003 Hollywood film, ‘Kill Bill,’ was a nostalgic reminiscence of these early genre works. In Europe, the French director, Luc Besson, has been a major proponent of ‘girls with guns,’ having produced two of the most popular films of the genre worldwide: ‘Nikita’ (1990, aka ‘La Femme Nikita’) and ‘Léon’ (1994, aka The Professional’).